Cancer-derived exosomes trigger endothelial to mesenchymal transition followed by the induction of cancer-associated fibroblasts

Ju Hun Yeon, Hyo Eun Jeong, Hyemin Seo, Siwoo Cho, Kimin Kim, Dokyun Na, Seok Chung, Jaesung Park, Nakwon Choi, Ji Yoon Kang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

90 Citations (Scopus)


Cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) play a pivotal role in tumor growth, but very little has been known about its characteristics and origin. Recently, cancer-derived exosome has been suggested to transdifferentiate CAFs, by a new mechanism of endothelial to mesenchymal transition (EndMT), initiating angiogenic processes and triggering metastatic evolution. However, an enabling tool in vitro is yet to be developed to investigate complicated procedures of the EndMT and the transdifferentiation under reconstituted tumor microenvironment. Here we proposed an in vitro microfluidic model which enables to monitor a synergetic effect of complex tumor microenvironment in situ, including extracellular matrix (ECM), interstitial flow and environmental exosomes. The number of CAFs differentiated from human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs) increased with melanoma-derived exosomes, presenting apparent morphological and molecular changes with pronounced motility. Mesenchymal stem cell (MSC)-derived exosomes were found to suppress EndMT, induce angiogenesis and maintain vascular homeostasis, while cancer-derived exosomes promoted EndMT. Capabilities of the new microfluidic model exist in precise regulation of the complex tumor microenvironment and therefore successful reconstitution of 3D microvasculature niches, enabling in situ investigation of EndMT procedure between various cell types. Statement of Significance: This study presents an in vitro 3D EndMT model to understand the progress of the CAF generation by recapitulating the 3D tumor microenvironment in a microfluidic device. Both cancer-derived exosomes and interstitial fluid flow synergetically played a pivotal role in the EndMT and consequent formation of CAFs through a collagen-based ECM. Our approach also enabled the demonstration of a homeostatic capability of MSC-derived exosomes, ultimately leading to the recovery of CAFs back to endothelial cells. The in vitro 3D EndMT model can serve as a powerful tool to validate exosomal components that could be further developed to anti-cancer drugs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)146-153
Number of pages8
JournalActa Biomaterialia
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Aug


  • Cancer-associated fibroblasts
  • Cancer-derived exosomes
  • Endothelial to mesenchymal transition
  • Interstitial flow
  • Microfluidic culture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biomaterials
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Molecular Biology


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